By Matt Richardson
It was one of those nights when nobody seemed ready to leave. 15, 20 even 30 minutes after WBO junior featherweight champion Juan Manuel Lopez beat Rogers Mtagwa by unanimous decision in the theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday night, there was still a significant contingent of fans and media on hand, almost standing in disbelief at what they had just witnessed. For 12 brutal and sensational rounds, Lopez and Mtagwa traded wild shots in what has to be considered one of the best fights of 2009, if not the best.
In the end it was Lopez who barely (emphasis on the word barely) stayed on his feet to hear scores of 116-111, 115-111 and 114-113 read in his favor (the initial score of 116-116 originally announced by Michael Buffer was incorrect). Fightnews also had it 115-111, or 8 rounds to 4, scoring the fifth 10-8 for Lopez when he scored a knockdown and the 12th 10-8 for Mtagwa due to his total domination of the round.
“I didn’t think he was going to finish the fight,” Mtagwa (25-13-2, 18 KO’s) said when he left the ring. “I thought he was going down. I wanted to finish for a knockout but he’s tough. He’s a good fighter. He’s got a lot of speed.”
“He was definitely hurting me but I felt my feet under me,” a sweaty and marked up Lopez told the ringside media in the direct conclusion of the fight. “I think in the 11th round he really hurt me and I was never able to recuperate. We knew going in he was a different, awkward fighter.”
While the 3,152 in attendance would unequivocally hope for a rematch as would Mtagwa (“I think it was a very close fight,” he said), the chances of both men trading leather again soon are slim. Lopez is likely to go ahead with plans to share a double-header from his native Puerto Rico on January 23rd with featherweight tile-holder Yuriorkis Gamboa (more on him later) in the co-feature. Lopez could wind up fighting three other champions on that night, either featherweights Steven Luevano or Elio Rojas or junior featherweight Celestino Cabellero. The plan still is to eventually match Lopez with Gamboa in a blockbuster bout next June, also at the Garden.
But, first things first. “We’re going to see particularly how he does in January,” said Lopez promoter Bob Arum. “I think that he (Lopez) fought a stupid fight (tonight) and he can’t fight a stupid fight against Gamboa. ‘Juanma’ didn’t have to make it that difficult.”
Lopez (26-0, 24 KO’s) didn’t dismiss his own mortality, however. “A lot of people think I’m Superman. I’m not,” he said. “I get hit like everyone else.”
GAMBOA READY FOR LOPEZ
Gamboa (16-0, 14 KO’s) meanwhile, easily destroyed journeyman Whyber Garcia, stopping him in two one-sided rounds. After barely breaking a sweat, the only topic of discussion after the Garcia fight was about a potential Lopez-Gamboa clash next year. “My straight answer is I want to prove I’m the best in the world and I’ll fight whoever thinks they’re better than me,” Gamboa said. “I don’t think ‘Juanma’’s better than me. I don’t need a warm up fight. If he wants to fight, he can fight me.”
SOLIS FEELS GOOD – AND IT SHOWS
Heavyweight hopeful Olandier Solis said he felt good physically and it showed as he knocked out Monte Barrett in two short frames. Solis (15-0, 11 KOs) was fighting at a career high of 271 pounds, but he still moved around the ring decently. “I came well prepared,” he said. “I had a really good training camp. I’ve been working at this weight the last few weeks and I feel good at this weight.” Solis had two opponents fall out prior to Barrett stepping in – Kevin Johnson and then Fres Oquendo. Solis said he was still optimistic that he can get a fight with some of the top guys in the division. “When I came into boxing I knew I was ready for them and I showed tonight that I am.”